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Sarah Smethurst’s Class Summary for October 15

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Deciphering Faulkner: Class Summary Essay

The Sound and the Fury: June 2, 1910

Class began with that ever-treasured opportunity—extra credit. After discussing the opportunity and the details of the hypertext edition specific to this section, we jumped right in. After a discussion of Benjy’s use as a narrative prosthesis, we discussed Quentin’s section, finding several points we could agree on. Faulkner lets us into Quentin’s head and uses the pioneering (and frustrating) stream of consciousness style to give us insight into a mentally disabled brain that we lack in the more obviously disabled Benjy’s narrative. We see his failed life, his confused sexuality, and his complicated and possibly fictionalized relationships in much sharper focus than the well-meaning but unreadable Benjy’s reading of events.

Because Benjy’s beginning narrative is so crucial to the rest of The Sound and the Fury, we spent the first part of class (re)iterating our small group discussion of the previous class. Dr. Foss (re)presented the question of whether Faulkner cares about Benjy as more than a narrative device, and whether he is a sympathetic character or simply a perpetuation of a derogatory stereotype. Despite protestations that devoting much space, especially prime opening chapter space, to a disabled character was an act of service, we were forced to consider that the time was spent (re)inforcing a stereotype. The fact remains that Benjy does little to make himself a sympathetic character—we get a lot of characterization and events through him, but little emotional language or an experiential lens at all. He doesn’t have much of his own voice, and instead speaks through others’ dialogue, despite the section being technically grounded in his consciousness. Besides all that, there are major doubts as to the accuracy of Benjy’s disability, which can be infantilizing and extremely limiting.

Finally, we reached the topical portion of the class—small group discussion on the next section of the book, as narrated by Quentin. Dr. Foss presented to us several questions about how we read Quentin’s character and possible disability (and how that comments on Benjy’s disability), how to explain the narrative (switches in style of stream of consciousness), and the roles of other characters in his life. As usual, my group didn’t manage to get to most of the questions, but we covered what we could.

First, we deviated long enough to discuss the parentage of Ms. Quentin (is she Quentin’s child? is that possible?). This theme of possible incest would show up in later classes, and appears to be an unusual textual fixation of my group. We then discussed whether or not Quentin was disabled himself, conjecturing that though he may “pass” in society as sane, he had many mental and emotional disabilities of his own. We pointed to the past issues and traumas in his life, and also to the imagery and symbolism in the section (the use of clocks and fixations on time). Quentin has obsessions and fixations that are debilitating, not to mention the clear anxiety, depression, and (planned) suicide.

Despite the common disability (though in different forms), we found many differences between Quentin and Benjy. Their perceptions of the world are different—Benjy’s is neutral or even removed, and Quentin has an overwhelmingly negative perspective. The stream of consciousness style gets ever stranger when Quentin is the narrator, and we covered the differences and similarities in style., especially the mid-sentence time and scene changes present in Quentin’s text. We also discussed how Benjy merely observes the outside world around him, placing no filters or biases on the action, while Quentin takes it all in and combines it with his own emotion. Thus, he is susceptible to what others think about him and is sensitive to teasing, especially about his sexual orientation.

We could draw little conclusions about Quentin’s sexuality from the text. It was unclear whether certain comments meant that Quentin was really gay, or whether he was simply representing or internalizing the teasing of classmates and others around him. We also questioned the reliability of Quentin as a narrator, proposing that it was possible and even probable for him to lie in his section, whether intentionally or not. It made us doubt the crucial section regarding Caddy as we looked for meaning in Quentin’s obsession with her. We divined that whether they really had sex or not did not matter as much as the fact that Quentin believes that they did. Most of his interactions with Caddy could conceivably be a figment of his altered imagination, but so long as he believes they occurred, they have a huge impact on his life and mental health. We would have delved much deeper into this topic but Dr. Foss ended class at this point. Perhaps we should have saved the incest discussion and devoted more time to the loaded relationship between Caddy and Quentin.

Benjy may or may not be a sympathetic figure, but the mind that we really get into in The Sound and the Fury is Quentin’s. Although Quentin is a supposed to be a more normal narrator, he suffers from a disability that rivals Benjy’s, which affects his interpersonal relationships, his sexuality, and the unique voice in the section entitled “June 2, 1910.” The last comment of class was a question highly relevant to this issue and posed by Dr. Foss—who, in this text, is the Sound, and who is the Fury? He suggests that it is Benjy who provides the Sound, and Quentin who fully supplies all the Fury the text needs.

919 words

Written by sarahsmile

October 20th, 2010 at 3:24 am

Andrew’s Formal Blog Post on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: October 18, 2010

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“…you can send Ben to the Navy I says or to the cavalry anyway, they use geldings in the cavalry. Then when she sent Quentin home for me to feed too I says I guess that’s right too, instead of me having to go way up north for a job they sent the job down here to me and then Mother begun to cry and I says it’s not that I have any objection to having it here; if it’s any satisfaction to you I’ll quit work and nurse it myself and let you and Dilsey keep the flour barrel full, or Ben. Rent him out to a sideshow; there must be folks somewhere that would pay a dime to see him, then she cried more and kept saying my poor afflicted baby and I says yes he’ll be quite a help to you when he gets his growth not being more than one and a half times as high as me now…”

In this passage from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Benjamin is described in three distinct ways: as an animal, as a freak show and as a baby. Jason’s anger towards Benjamin is focused both on Ben being an “other,” as well as Ben’s inability to make money to support his ventures.  Interestingly, Jason’s description of Ben focuses more on the physical body rather than trying to describe Ben’s cognitive impairment.

Jason first suggests similarities between Ben and a horse, showing that he thinks of Ben as a big, dumb animal. Describing Ben as a “gelding,” confirms Ben’s castration, which was suggested in a previous section, as well as takes away Benjamin’s masculinity.  Taking away Ben’s sex puts him on at a disadvantage in Jason’s eyes because he is no longer a man.  It adds to the dehumanization, portraying him to be closer to animal than a human.

Jason also suggests that Ben could be put to work as a “sideshow,” showing that he would not mind Ben as much if he could at least bring home money or “keep the flour barrel full”.  Portraying Ben as a carnival act not only suggests he is an “other,” who is physically impaired from Jason’s point of view, but also suggests that Ben is stigmatized by the rest of society as well.

The third description comes at the hand of Mrs. Compson, who calls Benjamin her “poor afflicted baby.” Mrs. Compson still sees Benjamin as a baby because he has not developed past that age like with the rest of her children. The “poor afflicted” description draws similarities to Dicken’s Tiny Tim, in that we are supposed to find it endearing, but this is not the case because throughout the story it does not stick, as everyone can see that Ben is a grown man. This latter view is shared by Jason, who calls Benjamin “Ben,” rather than the infantilized version “Benjy.”

Although Jason’s descriptions of Ben focus on physical impairment, what he really means to describe is Benjamin’s mental impairment. Jason is forced to lump Ben into an “other,” dehumanized group, shared by animals and carnival acts, because he is unable to grapple with the fact that his brother looks like an adult, but is mentally impaired.

“…you can send Ben to the Navy I says or to the cavalry anyway, they use geldings in the cavalry. Then when she sent Quentin home for me to feed too I says I guess that’s right too, instead of me having to go way up north for a job they sent the job down here to me and then Mother begun to cry and I says it’s not that I have any objection to having it here; if it’s any satisfaction to you I’ll quit work and nurse it myself and let you and Dilsey keep the flour barrel full, or Ben. Rent him out to a sideshow; there must be folks somewhere that would pay a dime to see him, then she cried more and kept saying my poor afflicted baby and I says yes he’ll be quite a help to you when he gets his growth not being more than one and a half times as high as me now…”

Written by aallingh

October 18th, 2010 at 11:08 am

Katherine Sullivan’s Formal Post on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: June Second, 1910

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In this story, the lives of two brothers are shaped by one unstoppable force: time.  When analyzed with the first section of The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928) the second section brings many underlying themes to the clear vision of the reader. The Sound and the Fury: June Second, 1910 is narrated by Benjy’s older brother, Quentin.  A thorough analysis of the two brothers (and their accompanying texts) will reveal that they are surprisingly similar in their perceptions of the world and their obsessions.

June Second, 1910 opens with Quentin in his bed at Harvard, keenly listening to the ticking of the watch his father gave him, trying to divine the exact time without looking at the watch’s face.  This anxious obsession with time serves as a defining characteristic of Quentin throughout the section in which he narrates.  The reader experiences his world through the acute, measured passage of time as he frequently reassures himself that it is “quarter past,” “half past,” or “quarter ‘til,” even when he is unsure of the numerical hour itself.  Through this section, we learn that Quentin’s obsession with time has always been part of how he perceives the world, even counting the seconds and minutes in school until the bell would ring.  In my interpretation of the second section, Quentin’s obsession with time shows his intense desire to control some significant force in his life to oppose his father’s demanding decisions and his restrictive familial obligations.

Like Quentin, Benjy is also obsessed with the passage of time, not necessarily in the exact, scientific manner of his brother, but in much more relative terms.  When compared to the second section, Benjy’s narration is punctuated with instances of fascination with the passage of time, not his brother’s controlling, anxious approach.  Benjy perceives the world as a series of objects being either present or absent. In my interpretation, this is how he measures time. This can be seen in how Benjy remembers eating soup in the kitchen, as a repetitive series of the bottom of the bowl either being visible or not. In this scene, he does not focus on the conversation around him, or the actions of the other characters, he only focuses on time ticking away by the absence or presence of objects.  This event is not unique in Benjy’s section, as he perceives many situations in this way.

In this intertextual reading of the first and second sections of The Sound and the Fury, it can be seen that both brothers measure the events and memories in their lives by the passage of time, be it free-form and visually-based in the case of Benjy, or regulated and numerical in the case of Quentin.

Written by Katherine Sullivan

October 15th, 2010 at 9:56 am

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